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Mystical City of Safed, Israel / צפת, העיר המיסטית בישראל

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    Simeon bar Yochai ,  also known by his acronym Rashbi, was a famous 1st-century Tannaic (Mishnaic, ed.) sage in ancient Israel, active after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. He was...
  • Moshe Yehoshua Luria (b. - c.1555)
    Son of the HaAri HaKadosh
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  • Yitzhak Luria HaAR"I Hkadosh - (1534 - 1572)
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  • Rabbi Israel of Shklov (1770 - 1839)
    Yisroel ben Shmuel Ashkenazi of Shklov (ca. 1770–May 22, 1839) was a Talmudist, one of a group of Talmudical scholars of Shklov who were attracted to Vilna by Elijah Gaon (1720–97). He ga...

Safed ( צְפַת, Tzfat; صفد‎, Ṣafad, Tzfas ) is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of 900 metres (2,953 ft), Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and in Israel. Since the 16th century, Safed has been considered one of Judaism's Four Holy Cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias; since that time, the city has remained a center of Kabbalah, also known as Jewish mysticism.

The Safed bounds with legends, rabbis, mystical traditions, painters and scribes. Abstract painter Yitzhak Frenkel, great-grandson of the 18th century founder of the Hassidic movement, led a group of 1930s artists in setting up the Artist Colony in scenic, mystical Safed. Among his students were notable talents such as Moshe Castel and Sionah Tagger, the first woman artist born in the state of Israel. Frenkel went on to paint portraits of all 120 members of Israel’s first Knesset (parliament). Source

Historic Buildings and Archaeological Restorations

Safed still contains six old synagogues, including the famous Ari synagogue (of R. Isaac Luria) dating from the 16th century, which belongs to the Sephardi community. Another synagogue of Luria belongs to the Ashkenazim and was renewed after the earthquake of 1837. Other famous synagogues are named after R. Yose ha-Bannai, R. Joseph Karo, and R. Isaac Aboab].

Hebrew Printing

In 1573 the well-known Hebrew printer Eliezer b. Isaac Ashkenazi and his son, Isaac of Prague, left Lublin for Safed. There they set up as printers in partnership with Abraham b. Isaac Ashkenazi, a resident of Safed.

In 1832 the printer Israel Bak of Berdichev settled in Safed and issued four books up to 1834, the year the community was pillaged by Arab villagers. In 1836 printing was resumed with the publication of Pe'at ha-Shulḥan by Israel of Shklov. As a result of the earthquake of 1837 Bak went on to Jerusalem. Between 1863 and 1866 Dober b. Samuel Kara, of Skole (Galicia), printed some eight books in Safed.

Ten years later Abraham Ẓevi Spiegelmann and his partners began printing, but only three works are known to have appeared up to 1885. In 1913 Barukh Barzel and his partners opened a Hebrew press called "Defus ha-Galil," with some 20 books being printed up to 1926. This press served Hebrew writers who found refuge in Safed during World War I. Later, A. Friedmann took over the press, which printed the Haganah paper Kol Ẓefat during the War of Independence.Source

Tzfat's Cemetery's Illustrious Residents

People come to the cemetery from all over the world, to sit, pray, beseech, or simply be in the company of the great rabbis who are buried there.The most famous of these rabbis is-:

  • Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the ARI came to Tzfat in 1530 from Egypt. He was one of the most famous Kabbalists of all times, and while in Tzfat, legend has it, he learned new Kabbalistic insights while studying with Elijah the Prophet in a cave in the synagogue located above the cemetery - today named the ARI Sepharadic Synagogue.

Hassidim revere the ARI, and the anniversary of his death every summer is a time when thousands of Hassidim come to pray at his tomb. The grave of the ARI is the most notable gravesite in the cemetery, with a platform built around it to make it easier for people reach the site. As with all the graves of the great Rabbis in the cemetery, the ARI's grave is painted a deep blue.

  • Rabbi Moshe Luria Isaac Luria's son. There is a tree that grows out of R' Moshe Luria's grave. A tradition has grown out of the hanging plastic sacks on the tree and each sack holds a petition of a visitor to the grave who is asking for R' Moshe's intercession with the Divine regarding some aspect of their life. 

Rabbi Moshe Alsheich, best known for leading the movement to reaccept Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity, and who wanted to reenter the Jewish World. At that time, many Jews were reluctant to allow this, reasoning that their conversion indicated that they weren't fully-committed Jews, but R' Alsheich wouldn't accept this reasoning, and his stature convinced the Jewish authorities of his day to allow these Jews to return to Judaism.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz is best known for composing the Lecha Dodi song which is sung every Friday night to welcome in the Sabbath. R' Alkabetz was a Kabbalist, and he wrote the Lecha Dodi in accordance with the Kabbalistic belief that, during the week, each one of a Jew's actions creates an angel. On Shabbat, these angels join the individual as he brings in the Sabbath Queen, and Lecha Dodi, "Come my Beloved" reflects this.
  • 

Rabbi Yosef Karo is best known for writing the Shulhan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, in Tzfat. A Kabbalist and a Torah scholar who was concerned with the day-to-day observances of the Torah's commandments, R' Karo wrote the Shulhan Aruch to make the laws of the Torah easier for Jews, who because of the Spanish Expulsion, were being dispersed throughout the world. Tradition states that R' Karo wrote the Shulhan Aruch with the help of an angel, The Maggid, in the location where the Yosef Karo Synagogue is now located.

While the cemetery is best known for the great scholars from the Middle Ages who are buried there, it is also known as the burial grounds for Jews who lived in the area thousands of years ago. Some of the oldest graves that are known there are those of Hosea the Prophet, R' Pinchas Ben Yair (father-in-law of R' Shimon Bar Yochai, composer of the Kabbalistic Book of the Zohar in the 1st century A.D.) and, some believe, Chana and her Seven Sons of Chanukah fame.Source

Rabbi Yosef Karo's Legacy

Rabbi Karo's life was certainly an important one, and one of the many pieces to the overall picture of the history of Safed. Rabbi Yosef Karo contributed to life there a great deal in the 16th century. He was born in the town of Toledo, Spain in 1488 to a well known rabbinical family. They were descendents of Rabbi Shimon Karo, who wrote the "Yalkut Shimoni" and whose son, Yosef, was a student of the world renowned Talmud commentator, Rashi.

Rabbi Karo's family moved from Spain to Portugal when he was four and then, a few years later, to Kushta. In Kushta, He was briefly married at the age of 30 to Rabbi Chaim Ben Albegag's daughter. Unfortunately, his wife soon passed away from a disease. He then married the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Sabba, and had a son named Shlomo. He moved to Nikopol where he was the Chief Rabbi of the town and the head teacher at the Yeshiva.

In 1537 Rabbi Karo moved to Safed where he started a large Yeshiva. Students from all over came to learn with him and to ask him questions about Jewish law. His second wife unfortunately also died and heeventually married for a third time with Rabbi Zecharya Askenazi's daughter.

He decided to undertake to create one unifying Jewish Code of Law that would help people know answers to many of their religious questions. This work, "Beit Yosef," was a tremendous undertaking. He completed both "Beit Yosef" and "Shulchan Aruch" and these works became very important to the Jewish people. These works include all of the laws and customs of Judaism and they help to show what a genius Rabbi Karo was. In addition to these works, he also wrote Maggid Mesharim (on his meetings with the Angel HaMaggid), Kesef Mishnah, Bedek HaBayit, and a number of other books that weren't preserved.

Rabbi Karo was thought to be extremely humble and righteous. He loved his fellow people and his house was the spiritual center of Safed. His door was always open to those who needed spiritual guidance, money, advice and more. Rabbi Karo's teachings have worked to unify the Jewish people in their understanding of Jewish law, and his personality served to unify the people of his time.

Rabbi Karo died at the age of 87 in 1575 and was buried in Safed. Interestingly enough, during the earthquake in 1837 that destroyed much of the town, the House of Rabbi Yosef Karo, called Beit Karo, was not damaged at all. It was one of the few houses that remained intact after this event! Source

Famous Safed Personalities

The 16th century was Safed's Golden Age. Many of the great rabbis of the era lived, studied and taught in Tzfat. During this time Tzfat became known as the City of Kabbalah due to the large influx of Kabbalists who made their home in the town.

  • Rabbi Isaac Luria, the ARI 1532-1572 Next to R' Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (basis of Kabbalah), the ARI is the most revered Kabbalistic Rabbi to have lived. His family originated in Egypt, and although he himself was born in Jerusalem, upon the death of his father, the family returned to Egypt. He was raised in an uncle's house and became known throughout the Jewish world at an early age as a mystic of mythical stature.

In 1569 he came to Tzfat where he studied and taught, though he never wrote anything down. He located gravesites of many great Talmudic Rabbis and other scholars who had died hundreds of years before his time. He prophesied, divined, explained the unexplainable, and directed Kabbalah study to the direction that we know it today -- as a way of understanding the secrets of the Torah and how knowledge of those secrets can help us strengthen our relationship to God and to our fellow man. To this day, visitors to Tzfat can see the little room in the Ari Sepharadi synagogue where The ARI is said to have studied with Elijah the Prophet, and broadened his understanding of Kabbalah through Divine Inspiration.

  • Rabbi Joseph Karo 1488-1575 Born in Turkey to a family which had been expelled from Spain, R' Karo labored for 30 years in writing the Beit Yosef, his compilation of the laws of Jewish life which guide, till today, Jews throughout the world in their daily lives. R' Karo worried that after the Spanish Expulsion, the new far-flung Jewish communities would no longer be able to have easy access to the Laws, and so he shortened his Beit Yosef to The Shulhan Aruch to help laymen in their day-to-day practice of Torah life.

R' Karo is said to have written his works in a basement room which sits below today's Yosef Karo synagogue with the aid of a maggid, a heavenly messenger whose advice and assistance followed him through his years of scholarly research, writings, and then as the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat. R' Karo is one of the very few scholars who wrote and studied conventional Torah law while relating to Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, in fathoming the mysteries that lay behind the written words of the Torah.

  • Rabbi Ya'akov Beirav 1474-1546 Rabbi Beirav arrived in Tzfat from Damascus, intending to develop Tzfat's cultural and economic base. He was responsible for the mills which were built in Wadi Limon which resulted in the expansion of the wool dying trade in the area. As a wealthy merchant, he was able to establish a yeshiva in Tzfat and give stipends to the students and their families.

However, it was as Chief Rabbi of Tzfat that R' Beirav became famous, because he envisioned the resumption of the Sanhedrin in Tzfat. R' Beirav was concerned over the fate of Marrano Jews who openly converted to Christianity in Spain and Portugal, but continued to secretly practice Judaism. When some of those Marranos escaped and began to attempt to return openly to Judaism, many Jewish leaders scorned their return, and refused to allow them to rejoin the Jewish community.

R' Beirav wanted a body with the authority of the Sanhedrin, a Jewish court which functioned during the time of the Temples and was outlawed by the Romans, to be reinstated, so that the authority of the Rabbis who demanded that these returnees be accepted back to Judaism would not be questioned. The objection to reinstating the Sanhedrin was so strong outside of Tzfat that, although Beirav ordained 4 of his students (R' Karo, R' Di Curiel, R' Di Trani, and R' Shalom), their power was never recognized. But the Rabbis themselves, both individually and now, collectively, carried enough authority to be able to influence the Jewish world to accept their way of thinking, and the Marranos began to assimilate back into the Jewish world.

  • Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz 1505-1584 R' Alkabetz is best known as a student of the ARI and R' Joseph Karo, a mystic, and a poet whose practice of going out to "bring in the Sabbath" while watching the sunset over Mt. Meron inspired him to write the "Lecha Dodi" prayer which Jews sing during the Kabbalat Shabbat Service throughout the world. R' Alkabetz is also one of the originators of the custom, together with R' Yosef Karo, of staying up all night on the Shavouth holiday to study Torah.
  • Rabbi Moshe Alshekh d.1594 R' Alshech was ordained by R' Yosef Karo. He sat on the Beit Din of Tzfat and founded a synagogue for Marranos who wished to return to Jewish practices.
  • Rabbi Chaim Vital 1542 - 1620 R' Vital was ordained by R' Moshe Alshekh. R' Vital, who had been born in Tzfat, was one of the closest students of the ARI. While the ARI never wrote down his teachings, R' Vital did, but promised the ARI that he would not share them because of a worry that such strong mysticism could, if widely known, cause havoc with people's lives and the world. Legend states that these writings were stolen from R' Vital and dispersed...it is these writings which form much of present-day Kabbalah study.

Source

Notable residents

  1. David Friedman, artist translating kabbalistic concepts based on Sefer Yetzirah
  2. Miriam Mehadipur, Tzfat resident Israeli artist since 1999 of Dutch birth,
  3. Hayyim Vital, rabbi
  4. Isaac Luria, a foremost rabbi father of contemporary Kabbalah.
  5. Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, a rabbi, kabbalist and poet "Lecha Dodi".
  6. Joseph Karo, a rabbi, and author of the Shulchan Aruch.
  7. Jacob Berab, rabbi and talmudist attempt to reintroduce rabbinic ordination.
  8. Moshe of Trani, rabbi of Safed from 1525 until 1535.
  9. Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, leader of a mystical school in Safed in the 16th-century.
  10. Moshe Alshich, a prominent rabbi,biblical commentator latter part of the 16th century.
  11. Leib "Baal Ha'yisurim"
  12. Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed.
  13. Meir Meivar, the Haganah commander of Safed during 1948, and the mayor
  14. Moshe Amar, a politician who served as a MK between 1977 and 1981.
  15. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, born in Safed in 1935.
  16. Yossi Abulafia
  17. Daher el-Omar
  18. Moshe Peretz
  19. Rabbi Meir
  20. Jamie Heaslip
  21. Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit
  22. Rabbi Yossi Della Reina
  23. Safta Yocheved
  24. Safta Ita

Gravesites of Northern Israel


Although Israel's North was settled by Israelites at the time that Joshua conquered the land and the twelve tribes entered Israel, the area's religious influence on Judaism dates mainly to the Roman period. Once Jews were expelled from Jerusalem many came to the North, among them the great Rabbis of the Talmud.

The ARI, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the great Kabbalist, identified scores of graves of these great rabbis when he lived in Tzfat in the 16th century, and his findings are generally accepted by religious Jews today, who flock to the North to pray at these tombs. Among the best known are:

Yehonatan Ben Uziel

Yehonatan Ben Uziel was a well-known Kabbalist and commentator, who translated the Book of Prophets into Greek.   Yehonatan Ben Uziel never married. which is rare and disapproved of among Jews.  Perhaps this is the reason that the gravesite of Yehonatan Ben Uziel, in Amuka on the outskirts of Tzfat, is a traditional spot for unmarried men and women to come to when praying to meet a marriage partner.

Benaihu Ben Yehoyada

Benaihu Ben Yehoyada's gravesite is also on the outskirts of Tzfat, right next to the main northern entrance to Tzfat. Benaihu Ben Yehovada was a warrior during the time of King David, but also a great Torah scholar who headed the Great Court, the Sanhedrin. Many stories are told about his prowess as a fighter, but he is best known as a righteous man, a "tzaddik" and for this reason his gravesite draws many petitioners who ask for his intercession in the heavens for assistance.

Honi HaMa'agal

Honi HaMa'agal - Honi "The Circle-maker" is buried near the western edge of the town of Hatzor, along the Rosh Pinna-Kiryat Shmoneh road. A well-known story about Honi casts him as the original Rip Van Winkle. Honi saw a man planting a Carob tree and asked the man why he was planting the tree. The man declared that he was planting the tree for his grandchildren. Honi then fell asleep, and upon awakening, saw the tree fully grown, with a young man picking carobs from it. Honi asked him "did you plant that tree" to which the man replied "no, my grandfather did". Honi realized that he had slept for 70 years.

Honi's gravesite is connected to prayers for rain, as he is remembered for drawing a circle during a dry winter and declaring to God that he would not leave until God sent the rains. God sent a drizzle, to which Honi said that the drizzle wasn't sufficient. God then sent a torrent, and Honi again refused to leave his circle, saying that the rush of water was also destructive. Finally, God answered Honi's request and sent proper winter rains.

Yehuda Bar Illay

Yehuda Bar Illay was a prominent sage of the Talmud and was a revered arbitrator among Talmudic scholars and commentators. His decisions, when a disagreement arose between two other sages, were accepted by all. Despite his knowledge and scholarship, R' Bar Illay was best known for his humility and the emphasis that he put on honoring his fellow man. His gravesite is on the side of the Tzfat-Meron road.

Rabbi Tarfon

The gravesite of Rabbi Tarfon is located off to the south of the Tzfat-Meron highway. Rabbi Tarfon is mentioned in the  Passover Hagaddah, the guidebook to the Seder ceremony which accompanies the first night of that holiday, as one of the commentators whose explanations of the Seder, the ceremony which accompanies the first night of the holiday are repeated until today. R' Tarfon was quite wealthy, but he is best remembered for his generosity to the poor and needy. Source

Tiberias - City by the Lake

Although the area around the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, seems to have been one of the first settled areas in the Land of Israel---the area which is today known as the city of Tiberias was only settled in the first century C.E.

King Herod's son established the city in 18 C.E. and named it "Tiberias" in honor of the Roman Emperor.

When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, many exiled Jews came to Tiberias to settle, and Tiberias became an important center of Jewish learning. The Mishna, an extensive commentary on the Torah, is believed to have been compiled in Tiberias by the great rabbis of the times, and the Sanhedrin, the Great Rabbinical Court was located in Tiberias.

 Jews, Christians and Moslems lived together in the city through the Byzantine and Umayyad periods. Many of the biggest battles of the Crusader era were fought near Tiberias.

Tiberias also played a central role in revitalizing Jewish communities which had been uprooted by the Spanish Inquisition. Throughout the Middle Ages, many Jews in Spain and Portugal had been forced to convert to Christianity, yet they continued to practice Judaism secretly. Many Marannos succeeded in fleeing Spain after formally converting to Christianity, and once free, longed to return to their Jewish roots. Tiberias offered refuge to many of these Jews, and quite a few Maranno families settled in Tiberias.



Tiberias became known as one of Judaism's Four Holy Cities. According to Kabbalah, each one of these cities is connected to an element of nature - Jerusalem is Earth, Hebron is Fire, Tzfat is Air, and Tiberias is Water. In 1948, the city began to flourish as a major center of Northern Israel.

Tiberias's past, however, is always apparent. Several years ago, a group of rabbis decided to attempt to revive the ancient Jewish Court, the Sanhedrin. They chose Tiberias as their seat, and they meet there periodically to discuss and try to resolve some of Judaism's modern conflicts and questions. Tiberias may be a modern city of Israel, but its history is never far away. Source

Chabad community

Tzfat has always been a center for the Chabad Hassidim. Chabad Hassidim came to Tzfat in the days of Eastern European immigration of 1777 - 1840, and they established synagogues and institutions in Tzfat.  That old Chabad community had mostly disappeared by the 20th century, and the Rebbe instructed his followers to reestablish a presence in Tzfat in the early 1970s.  Ever since then, the Lubavitch community has grown and flourished in Tzfat. Source

Breslev community

Tzfat is a major of center of Breslev Hassidism in Israel, both the "old" Breslevers and the "new ones".
This distinction between "old" and "new" Breslevers has developed in recent decades when Breslev Hassidim started to become outreach oriented and to bring young secular Jews towards religious observance. These young newcomers latched onto a wing of Breslev philosophy that has encouraged them to publicly dance and sing the songs and tunes of Rebbe Nachman as a way of drawing people towards traditional Judaism.

In addition, they believe that increasing joy through song and exuberant expressions of happiness is what Rebbe Nachman taught, and that this will hasten the coming of the Messiah. These public displays are seen frequently on the streets of Tzfat, especially during the peak tourist season, when groups of Breslevers, wearing their distinctive white skullcaps with tassels and singing their mantra, "Na Nach Nachman M'Uman" ("Nachman of Uman") sing, chant and dancing exuberantly. Source

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